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Les Lauder AM

Les Lauder founded the Fremantle Society and led as President 1973-78, and 1992-93. He came from the Geraldton area to the University of Western Australia from which he graduated with a degree in Psychology. He worked as a guidance officer at several Fremantle area schools. Inspired in 1972 by the work of the York Historical Society, he and others called a meeting in the Town Hall on 6 December 1972, which resulted in the establishment of the Society. He has been in the antiques business since 1979, trading with a partner as Lauder & Howard. Their last premises were in Blinco St, but for some time they had their business in Albrecht's Brush Factory in Duke St East Fremantle. In November 2107, he announced his intention to move the business to Hobart.

Fremantle Society

Congratulations to our founder Les Lauder AM for the Order of Australia (AM) awarded to him for his services to heritage.
For decades Les has been an erudite, passionate, and successful advocate for the heritage of Fremantle.
He was president of the Fremantle Society and Fremantle councillor several times. Most recently on council 2005-2009, Les was an exceptional councillor, mature, thoughtful, committed, and focussed on representing constituents.
Les’s term on council expired in 2009, 37 years since he had founded the group that saved Fremantle from the wrecking ball.
All the work Les did for Fremantle was done on top of running an antiques business with his partner Mark Howard.
Les is a real hero in the Fremantle landscape. He and others founded a community group that was pivotal in saving dozens of heritage buildings and pivotal in helping preserve the small scale special nature of the town. John Dowson, Fremantle Society President, FS email newsletter, 17 June 2017.

Les is the founding president and has been the power behind the Society for most of the time since it was established. The Committee wishes to acknowledge the enormous contribution that Les has made not only to the Society but also to the Fremantle community. Ralph Hoare, FS 1994 President, Fremantle, February 1994.

Fremantle Herald, June 2017

THE ‘Mr Fremantle’ of the port city’s  battle to save its heritage has been  awarded an Order of Australia medal  (AM) in this year’s Queens Birthday  honours list.
Leslie Charles Lauder was the  founding president of the Fremantle  Society, which burst into action in 1972 as  the wrecker’s ball was smashing its way through the east end of the city.
Many buildings had already gone. The  post-war Hepburn/Stephenson plan was  poised to plough a four-lane highway  through its historic West End when Mr  Lauder and scores of Fremantle residents  rose up and said: “Stop!”
If the plans had gone ahead, much  of Market, High and Cliff streets would have been demolished.
Society stalwart Ron Davidson was  lecturing in psychology at UWA when he  first met Mr Lauder as a student.
“I mean, he was a hero and against  all odds he really carried the Fremantle Society and the Fremantle Society carried  so many things,” Mr Davidson told the Herald.
He recalls being blown away as Mr  Lauder transformed from a “quiet, reticent” young man to a master orator  within the space of one meeting; the  society’s first.
Mr Davidson revealed that after the  society’s formation, Mr Lauder told him he had to move to Fremantle, as long as “you live there and don’t just get tied up in houses”. He took the advice and has  been living in the Fothergill Street home Mr Lauder recommended for the last 40-odd years.
Mr Lauder, who’s run an antique and fine arts business since 1979, was also president of the society from 1991-1993, its patron and a life member; he’s also been a Fremantle councillor and a  member of the National Estate (now the Australian Heritage Council).
Mr Lauder’s out of town at the  moment, but said he’d catch up with the Herald when he’s back. Fremantle Herald, 17 June 2017: 9.

Fremantle Herald, 17 November 2017


FREMANTLE SOCIETY founder and former councillor Les Lauder is saying farewell to the port city and moving lock, stock and antique barrel to Tasmania.
Credited with saving dozens of Fremantle buildings from destruction during WA’s 1970s development rush, the antique dealer was awarded an Order of Australia in June for his services to heritage.
But he told the Herald this week the state’s sluggish economy had seen local sales dropping off, while they’re going gangbusters in the eastern states and internationally — particularly the United States. With he and partner Mark Howard already falling in love with Hobart because of its vibrant arts scene, now seemed the right time to make the move.
“It’s not without some anguish, though, because we have a lot of good clients and friends over here,” Mr Lauder said. “But a lot of them have said ‘this gives us another reason to visit Hobart’.”
The pair have a lot to reflect on after 38 years in business, and a lot ahead of them trying to empty out their showroom and factory.
“It’s the equivalent of moving 40 households,” Mr Lauder said in between fielding a dozen inquiries from packers, tradies and customers.
There’ll be seven 40-foot sea containers heading to Tasmania, while McKenzies auctioneers will be putting the rest to the gavel on Tuesday November 21 at 6pm at Lauder and Howard on Blinco Street.
Up for grabs at the auction is a Louis XV painted armoire with two panels signed by J Godon 1883, which is expected to fetch between $18,000 and $24,000, while a c1710 Louis XIV serpentine commode could get up to $12,000.

Fremantle Society founder Les Lauder and partner Mark Howard are moving to Tasmania.

Precious heritage

They’d started as a pop-up shop on Cliff Street in 1979, but wanted to forge their own identity so steered clear of Victorian antiques and focused on Georgian and country pieces.
“Then in 1988 we did a major exhibition of colonial WA furniture, which had not been seen before,” Mr Howard said.
“It put us on the map because at the same time we published an introduction to colonial WA antiques, and at that time even the museum didn’t have one; they were – and are – still very rare.”
“To show how rare they really are, it took us another 25 years before we could put on another exhibition.”
And while the old furniture and nicknacks were moving out, Mr Lauder was making sure Fremantle’s precious heritage buildings stayed put.
“I am really pleased that when I first formed the Fremantle Society, the future of Fremantle was going to be a real industrial area,” he says.
He’d moved south of the river after being appalled by the destruction of Perth’s old buildings, but says he got a great shock when he arrived.
“I found only a couple of buildings were to be preserved as a token, and it was to become an industrial slum.”
But Mr Lauder says it was clear the community was against the plans, so he decided to form the Fremantle Society, but only after getting former mayor Bill McKenzie on side.
He paid tribute to the former son of the local milkman, saying he was an inspirational mayor who’s casting vote was responsible for saving dozens of buildings. Mr Lauder recalls McKenzie saying he was puzzled about this strange love for old buildings, but knew that saving them was the right thing to do.
The battle took its toll on both and at one point McKenzie resigned. Mr Lauder lobbied the city’s business community who chipped in for a full-page advertisement begging McKenzie to stay.
“On the day it came out, there was a phone call and it was Bill saying ‘I want to talk to you, you little bastard’ and he said ‘I can’t resign now’,” Mr Lauder said.
The resignation had already been processed, but come election time McKenzie’s was the only nomination.
Mr Lauder says he’s proud that his efforts saving Fremantle’s heritage has helped to turn the city’s reputation around; once sneered at as the home of “wharfies, communists and prostitutes”, he says it’s now somewhere anyone in Perth would aspire to live.

Fremantle Society, 5 February 2020: Les Lauder in Tasmania

The founder of the Fremantle Society and the main architect of the campaigns to save Fremantle from the wreckers no longer lives in Fremantle. Here he is comfortably ensconced in a gorgeous setting amidst the heritage of Hobart Town, the second oldest settlement in Australia.

Just before he moved in 2017, Les Lauder was awarded the Order of Australia for his work in saving Fremantle, though the Fremantle Council never congratulated him.

He and Mark Howard have done a superb job rescuing a very important early colonial house, and the photograph shows how splendid the interior now is.

Les has also been active in local politics, where the same problem of developer greed and high rise dominate local planning. As in WA, unelected development assessment panels are riding roughshod over community wishes to keep their community’s built form character. Les paid to attend one set of panel hearings for high rise proposals in a heritage setting, and using his vast experience was able to help protect an important downtown streetscape.

With the Fremantle Society’s 50th anniversary just 2 years away, we need to make sure he returns to enjoy some of the celebrations.

John Dowson
The Fremantle Society

References and Links

Davidson, Ron & Dianne Davidson 2010, Fighting for Fremantle: The Fremantle Society Story, Fremantle Society, from which the top bio comes.

Lauder & Howard website

Photos courtesy Fremantle Herald.

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